DARREN CLARKE was delighted when Louis Oosthuizen and Charl Schwartzel hoved into view at 11, striking a bet which he and McIlroy won hands down.
"It's always nice to take money from the South Africans," said Clarke. "I was quick to suggest a game when I had Rory as my partner.
"He's playing lovely, swinging the club great and he's got the ball under control. I've been pretty lucky -- I played with Lee Westwood (pictured) yesterday and he's playing great as well."
Clarke shot down suggestions that McIlroy's famous high ball flight might count against him this weekend, insisting the youngster is well able to hit his ball low and under the wind if he chooses.
"He wasn't hitting it high this morning," he said before batting away an invitation to go way down memory lane and discuss his first meeting with McIlroy at his foundation more than 12 years ago. "Listen, I'm not going down that sycophantic route, just calm yourself. Rory's playing fantastic and taking everything in his stride as you'd expect," Clarke retorted with only the vaguest hint of a smile.
He was in boisterous, good humour for a man who'd risen at 4.50 am and it showed on the par-three 16th where he gave McIlroy a loud and vigorous ribbing for conceding a five-foot putt for par to Schwartzel before missing a four-footer of his own for a winning birdie.
After carving his own tee shot there way wide of the green, Clarke confessed: "This golf course can make you look silly if you get it anyway wrong this week . My own game is okay, I'm not putting very well, but tee to green is very good, so we'll see, I might hole some this week."